People lie, and people cheat, and scientists are looking for a way to stop both of those things.
A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests brain stimulation might actually make us more honest.
To test their theory, the researchers separated 145 university students into 10 groups for a die-rolling experiment. After being told rolling a winning combination would result in taking home prize money, participants told the researchers the combination appeared two-thirds of the time — a statistical improbability.
After stimulating the active regions of the brain associated with cheating (using transcranial direct current stimulation over the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), the researchers conducted the experiment again. This time less people cheated, with the average percentage of successful dice rolls dropping to 58 per cent — still an improbable number, but revealing in that it showed that people didn't lie as much when those specific regions of the brain were stimulated.
"Most people seem to weigh motives of self-interest against honesty on a case-by-case basis," University of Zurich professor and lead researcher Michel Maréchal said.
Only eight per cent of the participants consistently cheated, leading Maréchal to believe that cheating isn't always a choice. "If breaches of honesty indeed represent an organic condition, our results question to what extent people can be made fully liable for their wrongdoings," he said.
Of the eight per cent, Maréchal noted the stimulation had little effect on any of them regardless of whether the rewards were personal or shared.
"This finding suggests that the stimulation mainly reduced cheating in participants who actually experienced a moral conflict, but did not influence the decision-making process in those who were committed to maximizing their earnings," Christian Ruff, co-founder of the study, said in a press release.
So while stimulus might work for those facing a moral conflict, some cheaters are just destined to cheat.